During the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) primaries in April, the most shambolic contests in the Coast were reported in Kwale and Taita Taveta.
The Taita Taveta contest between Wundanyi MP Thomas Mwadeshu and Governor John Mruttu was marred with violence and propaganda. The outcome was challenged at the Political Parties Disputes Tribunal, leading to the eventual declaration of Mr Mwadeghu as the ODM governorship candidate.
Consequently, Mr Mruttu ditched the Orange party to defend his seat as an independent candidate.
In Kwale, Sammy Ruwa, the outgoing County Assembly Speaker was locked in the race to secure the ODM governorship ticket against Dr Issa Chipera. After a month of inconclusive primaries that ended in a stalemate, the party awarded the ticket to Dr Chipera who now finds himself in a contest against Chirau Ali Mwakwere of Wiper Democratic Movement and Salim Mvurya of Jubilee.
In the Msambweni ODM race, the duel ended in a stalemate between Bongwe/Gombato Ward MCA Omar Boga and MP Suleiman Dori.
Mr Boga resigned from ODM and became an independent candidate. Mr Ruwa is now fighting perceptions that he is a protégé of Mombasa Governor Hassan Ali Joho, a tag that has also been imposed on Dori.
“I have not been sponsored by anyone to spoil for anyone and I only contested after consulting my supporters,” Ruwa said amid claims that his candidacy disadvantages Mvurya given that both are ethnic Durumas pitted against Mwakwere and Chipera who are Digo.
Boga remains popular among his supporters but his critics claim his popularity has fallen since he left ODM, the dominant party in the region. Early this month, he appeared to confirm this when he appealed to ODM leader Raila Odinga not to “preach the six-piece suit” gospel when he visits Kwale.
He insists he was rigged out in favour of Dori who also claims to be more popular.
Before defecting, Boga and Chipera were in the same camp composed of politicians in the so-called “Okoa Kwale” group that is opposed to influence from Mombasa. Chipera’s group also included nominated MP Zulekha Juma Hassan who has been nominated to contest the woman representative seat on an ODM ticket and Matuga MP Hassan Mwanyoha.
Ruwa, ODM Senate ODM nominee Issa Juma Boy and the party’s candidate for Kinango Benjamin Tayari belong in the group alleged to be allied to Joho.
Dori has dismissed Boga as “a sore loser” and insists he won the primaries fairly. Analysts say the race between them is tight.
During a recent debate, governorship candidates declared their wealth with Mwakwere alleging he is worth Sh2 billion in assets, Mvurya Sh50 million, Ruwa Sh40 million while Chipera is worth Sh26 million.
The independent candidates are now believed to be leading contenders for the August 8 polls or will influence who wins the race.
Despite the fact that Mruttu is defending his seat as an independent candidate, he has high chances of retaining his seat if he uses his incumbency well.
Other independent candidates include former Permanent Secretary Emanuel Kisombe and Erastus Katani who some residents have described as minnows.
If you compare the governor with his political rivals, Mruttu has a voting bloc from his Taveta community rallying behind him and could easily retain his seat. His Taveta home turf has over 34,000 registered voters.
Apart from his incumbency and massive resources, Mruttu has also reorganised his campaign team that has reinvigorated his re-election push.
Those interviewed said there is a likelihood that Taitas will split their vote and give the governor victory now that they have seven candidates. They include former Central Bank of Kenya Deputy Governor Jacinta Mwatela (ANC), Senator Dan Mwazo (Jubilee Party), immediate former Coast Water Services Board Chairman Granton Samboja (Wiper Democratic Movement), Mwadeghu (ODM) and Dr Costa Mwadime (Maendeleo Chap Chap). [Renson Mnyamwezi and Tobias Chanji]